Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Could I Not Have Remembered?

From a recent, unpublished journal entry:

     The family reunion in June  2011 presented an event both anticipated and dreaded:  the first Weber reunion service for dad, grandpa, and my cousin’s child who had died shortly after birth several months before.
   When we gathered Saturday night, it was the first time at a family reunion that I remember people openly crying.  Aunts and uncles shared poignant stories about dad’s final months.  We revisited fond memories of Grandpa, and talked about the memories we wish we could have made with my cousin’s child.
      I felt sad, but solid.  Hurting, but healthy.  After so many years,  I seemed to have found my long sought peace.
Until I saw the pictures.
  My mom had assembled a photo album spanning dad’s life, including the final months.  My uncle Calvin handed it to me and said, very quietly and carefully, “Have you seen these?” I hadn’t – or at least I didn’t remember seeing them before. 

     A ghost stared back at me from those pages;  dad had been a wraith at the end of his life, a scarecrow covered with cancer-strained skin.  This could not have been my dad.  This was not how I remembered him.
     The whole world seemed to shift.  The moment was surreal, and even as I write about it I can’t fully explain what I mean.  I thought briefly that I was hallucinating.  I blinked, looked away, looked back, but the pictures had not changed. My dad had been one of the walking dead. 
    How could I not have remembered?
     I picked up the album and walked out of the room. I found an empty stairwell, sat down, and sobbed and stared for a long time. This time, I looked at all those final pictures carefully.  I had dodged them once – no worse, I’m pretty sure I had seen them and blocked them from my memory.  After all my complaining about how other people buried the memory of my dad, I had done the same thing.
      I wouldn’t do it again.  I wanted to see them honestly this time.  I soaked them in through my tears, absorbing them as best I could.
            When I was done, I stopped Vincent from bouncing off a wall and said, “Let’s go for a walk, bud.”  I missed my Dad more than I had in years; I needed to spend time with my son.  I needed to build a memory of a strong, healthy dad for my impressionable youngest boy.  Vincent laughed, and talked, and eventually made me carry him as we walked through the shuttered, late night downtown  of Berea, Kentucky for an hour and a half.  I needed the darkness.  I’d had enough light for one day.
    But when I returned to the light streaming from the windows of our reunion site, Vincent riding my shoulders triumphantly, I walked through the door to find a game of Scrabble, and deliciously fattening late night snacks, and a fantastic family, and the soft laughter and gentle smiles of those who have learned that the good moments in life are meant for enjoyment, and the bad moments in life will one day pass, and that while we may all seek the darkness at times to cover our frailty and hide out tears, the light will always beckon us back to life.


  1. Anthony, thank you for your blog. I read it often, and have referred friends who are struggling to it as well.

    I have a dear friend whose son passed away at just 16 months old. He was born with a congenital heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. My son was born just 3 days after my friend's son, and my child also was born with the same defect. We "met" each other through online support groups for families with children born with CHDs, and we became great friends with our sons so close in age.

    As I mentioned, her son passed away in February and as you can imagine, she's having a VERY difficult time. The reason I'm contacting you is because I'm wondering if you have any ideas of something meaningful I can do for my friend as her son's 2nd birthday approaches in a few short weeks. I have the blessed joy of planning my son's 2nd birthday, while my friend is mourning the loss of her sweet boy. She lives on the opposite coast as I do, so I feel like I can't do very much to comfort her. But I'd love to do something -- anything! -- to let her know I'm thinking of her during this difficult time. Anything you can think of that might be especially meaningful to her during this time would be appreciated. Please email me at mom2lo@charter.net.

    God bless you!

  2. I will email you with a little more detail, but here's a brief answer. My personal experience is that the best think you do is simply be a friend, and let them know you have not forgotten. I don't usually try to push the conversation unless I have been an integral part of the ongoing journey through grief, but even for more casual friends, I think it is meaningful (say, on anniversaries or holidays) to just say, "I'm thinking of you." I think that's an effective way to acknowledge their grief, but not intrude on their journey.
    That' s just my experience....